After the first four games of the 2017 season, Boston College football ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in scoring. Prior to Saturday, BC was averaging just 15.5 points per game. The Eagles hadn’t put up more than 20 points in a game since their Week One win victory over Northern Illinois. Even worse, BC had failed to put up more than 10 points in two of the previous three weeks.
Plain and simple, head coach Steve Addazio’s team needed to right the ship before resuming ACC play. And it had the perfect opportunity to do so with Central Michigan coming to town. The Chippewas had allowed close to 32 points per contest over the course of the first four weeks of year, and had lost their last two games by a combined 41 points.
BC didn’t hit the 32 spot, but it got pretty close, defeating Central Michigan 28-8. But it’s the way that the Eagles scored those points that serves as a cause for concern.
1) Returning the Favor
Michael Walker single-handedly snapped the Eagles’ three-game losing streak. All but one of BC’s touchdown drives started with Walker returning a punt for 25-plus yards. And before the junior ripped off a 61-yard return early in the first quarter, it looked as if BC was in for another embarrassing loss.
After giving up a safety, the Eagles forced a Chippewas three-and-out. Walker trotted out to his own 30-yard line to field the punt. But because Jack Sheldon booted a line drive just 33 yards downfield, Walker essentially had a 10-yard head start on the ball. By the time he caught the ball, he was already in fifth gear. Untouched, he ran all the way down to the the Central Michigan six-yard line, nearly breaking the plane for a BC touchdown. The return marked a career high and foreshadowed what was to come.
Walker exploded for two more huge returns—34 and 29 yards apiece—before intermission. With the performance, the third-year wide receiver is now the ninth-leading punt returner in the country.
2) Lurking Lukas
Before this season, Lukas Denis had a hard time getting on the field. Now, he’s everywhere. One game removed from recording a career-high 13 tackles and intercepting Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, Denis put on an encore performance. The junior picked off Central Michigan quarterback Shane Morris twice.
The first one was just a byproduct of Denis being at the right place at the right time. Near midfield, Morris dropped back to pass and gunned the ball to what he thought was Tony Poljan. But the ball soared over his receiver’s head and landed in the arms of Denis.
But the free safety’s next interception was one that’ll make NFL scouts lick their chops. Once again, Morris snapped the ball out of the shotgun and surveyed the field. He went back to the right side of the field, this time trying to fit the ball to Jonathan Ward in the heart of BC’s zone defense. Denis read his eyes the whole way. He jumped the route, picked off the pass, and ran the ball back for 58 yards, putting his team in scoring position.
Denis headlines an Eagles secondary that is one of the best units, not only in the ACC, but in the nation. His two interceptions on Saturday up his total to five, tying him with Utah State’s Jalen Davis for the FBS lead.
3) Four-Star Backfield
Every week, the combination of Jonathan Hilliman and A.J. Dillon just keeps getting better. The pair of running backs rushed for a total of 213 yards and three touchdowns against the Chippewas. And for the first time all season, they had no trouble running through the tackles with consistency—typically the bread and butter of Addazio’s rushing attack. Time and time again, BC’s makeshift offensive line opened up gaping holes for Hilliman and Dillon.
Hilliman racked up the touchdowns, finding the end zone a career-best three times (two rushing, one receiving), but Dillon was more efficient on the ground. The true freshman carried the ball 25 times for 120 yards—both career highs—and a score. Last week, Dillon needed all 6-feet and 245 pounds of him to reach the goal line. But on Saturday, he scored with ease.
1) Still no Pop on Offense
Without Walker’s punt returns, this one would have been completely different. The Eagles only logged 309 yards of total offense on Saturday—a discouraging mark, considering that Central Michigan had been giving up an average of 460 yards per game prior to Saturday.
Like last week, BC ran a slower-paced offense than it did in the first three weeks of the season. The Eagles ran just 74 plays and averaged a meager 4.2 yards per clip. The running game was effective, but the passing game was nonexistent, contradicting Addazio’s season-long goal to feature a balanced offense.
After the game, Addazio cited a shoulder injury Brown sustained at Clemson as the reason why the redshirt freshman only threw 21 passes. When Addazio did call pass plays, many of them were capped at 10 or less yards downfield. Brown finished with just 85 passing yards, almost half his normal production.
BC’s offense was supposed to use this matchup as a confidence builder. Despite scoring a season-high 28 points, the Eagles failed to hit the big play or establish any sort of rhythm.
2) Turnovers Deep in Central Michigan Territory
BC was sneaky good in the red zone to start the year. The Eagles may not have gotten there often, but when they did, they scored. BC was a perfect 12-of-12 inside of the 20-yard line through its first four games of the season. But on Saturday, the Eagles weren’t nearly as sharp down near the goal line. On back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, BC fumbled the ball inside of the Chippewas’ 30-yard line.
Following Denis’ 58-yard interception return, Hilliman carried the ball on three-straight plays. The power back mustered just four yards on the first two rushing attempts, but on the third, he coughed up the ball.
Immediately, the Eagles turned Central Michigan over on downs, taking over at the Chippewas’ 26-yard line. Similar to the previous drive, Addazio called run play after run play. Only this time, it was Dillon shouldering the workload. But he couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone. Dillon took a vicious hit on the four-yard line, which jarred the ball loose and sidelined him for the rest of the game.
3) Lichtenberg Shoots Himself in the Foot
Colton Lichtenberg was off to the best start of his career. The junior placekicker nailed his first six field goal attempts this season. But ever since he hit the right post on a 43-yarder in Death Valley, he hasn’t been the same.
Thanks to a roughing the passer penalty, the Eagles got one more shot to put some points on the board before the half. Addazio sent Lichtenberg out to try a 50-yard field goal. Not only did Lichtenberg miss, but he was at least five yards short of the uprights and wide right.
During last week’s press conference, Addazio noted that 43 yards out was pushing Lichtenberg’s limit. If that’s really true, maybe Addazio will consider bringing out Maximilian Schulze-Geisthovel for long-range attempts from here on out. The German reportedly drilled a 58-yarder in practice.
But the worst had yet to come. Lichtenberg got a chance to pad his stats at the end of third quarter with a 29-yarder from the right hash. But he pushed it right, and the ball bounced off the right post, just like the week before.
Addazio can only hope that Lichtenberg snaps out of this funk, before he reverts back to his 2015 self.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor